Warning: I don't feel bad for the gorilla.
Here’s a story of 3 moms for you. Tell me if you can spot the difference between them. Mom #1 takes kid to the grocery store, kid runs around like a chicken with his head cut off, kid breaks a few things but mom leaves with kid, her sanity tested but her privacy in check. Mom #2 takes kid to the park, kid runs around and plays hide and go seek with other kids. At the exact time mom “looks” for kid, he’s hiding and mom goes frantic looking for him, engaging other moms to help her. Mom finds kid, loses her mind in a flurry of tears, but all in all, her privacy is still in check. Mom #3 takes kid to the zoo, kid gets excited looking at the gorillas, decides to join them when mom isn’t looking and falls into the exhibit. Mom panics and frantically tries to get help for her child, and help comes by way of gorilla being killed and mom getting her child back. HOW-E-VERRR, mom doesn’t leave with her privacy in check. She leaves and finds her parenting skills called into question, her husband's’ past called into question, and basically burned at the stake.
There’s one key difference between the Moms 1 and 2, and Mom #3. Besides her basic rights (as a panicked mom) being violated, Mom #3 is Black.
Welcome to America 2016 folks, where Black parents are held to an unrealistic standard of perfection, and should we even breathe incorrectly, we are under attack. Now, you can say I’m crazy. You can even say I’m playing the race card (I dare you). You can say whatever you like, but Shaun King of the New York Daily News spelled out the disparity quite nicely in a recent facebook post.
“Last year, a child fell into the cheetah exhibit at the Cleveland Zoo. The child and his parents were never identified.
A leopard mauled a young child who scaled a fence at the Kansas Zoo. Not a single report mentioned the criminal history of anyone involved.
In 2014, two jaguars mauled a toddler who fell into the jaguar exhibit of the Little Rock Zoo. The child’s identity, the identity of his parents, and their criminal history was never mentioned.
Fifteen years ago a child fell into another gorilla exhibit and was rescued. The criminal history of the parents was never mentioned.
At the Pittsburgh Zoo, a child lunged from his mother’s arms into the African spotted dog exhibit and was mauled to death. The zoo actually settled a wrongful death suit with the family. I searched all morning to see if any media outlets mentioned the criminal history of the family. They didn’t.
A tiger at the San Francisco Zoo mauled a 17-year-old boy to death. A drunk family member was witnessed taunting the tiger beforehand. The zoo settled with the family. Again, not a single story was written on the criminal history of anybody in that young man’s family.”
- Shaun King
So naturally, I have questions.
If all of these other events have taken place in zoos to other families, and all the other families left with their dignity, integrity, and privacy in check (and some with money in their pockets!), why wasn’t the family whose child was rescued from the hands of Harambe, the 400 lb silverback gorilla afforded the same luxury? Why did reporter Laura Collins of Daily Mail Online feel the need to do a full background check and search on the parents of this child? What did the mom’s occupation have to do with the fact that her child fell, was rescued, and is now safe? What did the dad’s background (criminal or otherwise) have to do with the fact that his child fell, was rescued, and is now safe? Sure, Ms. Collins goes on to say that according to facebook postings it seems that the father has turned his life around and that he is a proud dad to 4, but again, what did his past have anything to do with anything? What does the mother working as an administrator at a local preschool have anything to do with anything? Here’s your answer: IT DOESN’T.
Still, I have more questions.
Why in the name of all things good and holy are other moms feeling the need to skewer this mom for basically being a mom? How many times have you lost your kid at the beach? How many times have you almost left your child in the car because they fell asleep on the drive home from the grocery store, and you forgot and started taking bags into the house? How many times have you walked out of the room for five minutes and come back to find little Johnny scaling the furniture pretending to be spiderman?
How many times have you basically been a mom, and your child been a child, and the shit hits the fan and you end up in the emergency room getting 25 stitches and a lollipop?
Now, of all those times, how many times have you had your parenting skills questioned, your job looked into, and your partner’s background dissected and pulled apart with a fine tooth comb? None? Consider yourselves lucky. Unfortunately, Black parents and I might even venture to say Hispanic parents, and Muslim parents don’t have it so lucky. Back in the day, you could add Jewish parents. Irish parents, Italian parents, and perhaps even Polish parents. But that was back in the day. Today, it’s mostly us - the ones whose skin is a little more tan than tan. There is an unspoken, invisible, but very well known set of rules that we have to play by. There is also a different set of rules that we have to raise our children by. These rules are deeply rooted in history, but stand true in 2016. We can’t just let our kids play cops and robbers because that shit will go too far, and next thing you know we’re in a hospital room because our kid got choked out. We can’t let our kids go to school with wrinkled up clothing and saggy jeans (not that I would) because instead of it just being assumed that our kid is just being a teenager and following a (ridiculous) trend, it is assumed that our kid will rape your daughters, steal your purse, and carjack you, all in the span of 30 minutes. We have to teach our kids how to code switch. Not familiar with that term? Let me help you out. Code switching is the act of speaking one way around your friends and family in the home, and a completely different way in public/at work/at school. Because getting comfortable in the tongue at school might get you labeled as unintelligent and disrespectful, even though you’re a 4.0 student and a graduate of Miss Molly’s Charm School. So yes, there are rules. We know them and we play by them, even if we know we may not win the game.
If you are among the throes of people who have chimed in on this mom’s parenting abilities or have joined the out of tune, off pitch chorus of “hold her accountable”, I have some news for you.
The rules don’t apply to you, and your privilege is showing. Might want to check that.